Swim speeds and stroke patterns in wing-propelled divers: a comparison among alcids and a penguin

Watanuki, Yutaka; Wanless, Sarah; Harris, Mike; Lovvorn, James R.; Miyazaki, Masamine; Tanaka, Hideji; Sato, Katsufumi. 2006 Swim speeds and stroke patterns in wing-propelled divers: a comparison among alcids and a penguin. Journal of Experimental Biology, 209. 1217-1230.

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In diving birds, the volume and resulting buoyancy of air spaces changes with dive depth, and hydrodynamic drag varies with swim speed. These factors are important in the dive patterns and locomotion of alcids that use their wings both for aerial flight and underwater swimming and of penguins that use their wings only for swimming. Using small data-loggers on free-ranging birds diving to 20–30 m depth, we measured depth at 1 Hz and surge and heave accelerations at 32–64 Hz of four species of alcids (0.6–1.0 kg mass) and the smallest penguin species (1.2 kg). Low- and high-frequency components of the fluctuation of acceleration yielded estimates of body angles and stroke frequencies, respectively. Swim speed was estimated from body angle and rate of depth change. Brünnich's (Uria lomvia) and common (Uria aalge) guillemots descended almost vertically, whereas descent of razorbills (Alca torda), rhinoceros auklets (Cerorhinca monocerata) and little penguins (Eudyptula minor) was more oblique. For all species, swim speed during descent was within a relatively narrow range. Above depths of 20–30 m, where they were all positively buoyant, all species ascended without wing stroking. During descent, little penguins made forward accelerations on both the upstroke and downstroke regardless of dive depth. By contrast, descending alcids produced forward accelerations on both upstroke and downstroke at depths of <10 m but mainly on the downstroke at greater depths; this change seemed to correspond to the decrease of buoyancy with increasing depth. The magnitude of surge (forward) acceleration during downstrokes was smaller, and that during upstrokes greater, in little penguins than in alcids. This pattern presumably reflected the proportionally greater mass of upstroke muscles in penguins compared with alcids and may allow little penguins to swim at less variable instantaneous speeds.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Programmes: CEH Programmes pre-2009 publications > Biodiversity
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: _ Biodiversity & Population Processes
ISSN: 0022-0949
Format Availability: Electronic, Print
Additional Keywords: acceleration, buoyancy, data-logger, swimming mode, wing stroke
NORA Subject Terms: Marine Sciences
Date made live: 21 Jun 2007 13:15 +0 (UTC)

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